Tuesday, July 10, 2007

god or God: A Review of Two Works on the Names of God

god or God: A Review of Two Works on the Names of God
Eliezer Brodt

Last week I picked up a new sefer titled Nekadesh es Shimcha. What caught my attention was that it included not only Nekadesh es Shimcha but also the work Meleches haKodesh from R. Eleazar Fleckeles (most well-known for his Teshuva m'Ahava). What follows is a short biography of R. Fleckes, a review of Meleches haKodesh, and a review of the new sefer - Nekadesh es Shimcha.

R. Eleazar Fleckeles was born in 1754 in Prague. He was a direct descendant of R. Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz, author of the Keli Yakar, whom R. Fleckeles quotes many times throughout his writings. When R. Fleckeles was 14, he went to study with R. Ezekiel Landau and spent ten years studying there. R. Landau, as is evident from his haskamot to R. Fleckeles works, held R. Fleckeles in high regard. Additionally, many teshuvot in Noda b'Yehuda are penned to R. Fleckeles. In R. Fleckeles's writings, he quotes many interesting statements from R. Landau [for one example see here]. When R. Fleckeles was twenty-four, he became the Rabbi of Kojetin, a town in Moravia. After four years, however, R. Fleckeles returned to Prague to sit on R. Landau's Bet Din and serve as a head of a yeshiva.

R. Fleckeles authored many works, works covering halakha, derush, and a commentary on the Haggadah. R. Fleckeles was a skilled halakhist as is evident from his Teshuva m'Ahavah, but his fame also rests on his skills as a darshan. His derashot were published in a four volumes, Olat Chodesh. The fourth volume contains, R. Fleckeles series of derashot he gave against Shabbatai Tzvi and Jacob Frank (this section has a seperate title, Ahavat Dovid). One of themes which run throughout his derashot is an emphasis on learning Shas and Poskim and not Kabbalah. Recently, Professor Marc B. Shapiro printed an interesting correspondence between R. Fleckeles and Karl Fischer, a government censor, about Nittel Nacht, which first appeared as "Torah Study on Christmas Eve," Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy 8 (1999): 350-55, and then as "A Letter of R. Eleazar Fleckeles Concerning Torah Study on Christmas Eve," Ohr Yisrael 30 (2002): 165-168. This was not the only correspondence between the two, as a well-known teshuva appears in Teshuva m'Ahavah in response to Fischer's question about Jew's taking oaths. Teshuvah m'Ahavah, vol. 1, no. 26.]. In 1826, R. Fleckeles died after serving for 43 years on the Prague Bet Din.

Amongst R. Fleckeles lesser known seforim is the Meleches ha'Kodesh. The book differentiates between the names of Hashem, which are kodesh and which are chol, using the Bavli, Yerushalmi, Midrash, three Targumim, and all the various m'farshim on the Chumash. The reason the differentiation is important is that every time a sofer writes a kodesh name of Hashem, he needs to makes sure it is l'Shem Kedushas HaShem. If the sofer does not do so, the Sefer Torah is invalid. Although there are many instances it is obvious when the name is kodesh, there are many times it is unclear. Over time, there have arguments amongst the various poskim what to do in the ambiguous situations. R. Fleckeles collected all the prior opinions and provides his own conclusion for these questionable Shems.

R. Fleckes begins each of his discussions by quoting an earlier work on the topic Meir Netiv by R. Yehuda Piza [this first appeared in the Chumash R. Piza published in Amsterdam in 1767, Ezras HaSofer - R. Piza will be the subject a forthcoming post at the Seforim blog.] R. Fleckeles then provides additional sources not considered or quoted by R. Piza and then R. Fleckeles comes to his conclusion. In the process, R. Fleckeles demonstrates a tremendous breadth of knowledge in the works of Chazal, the Rishonim, and Achronim. What is extremely interesting about both of these works are the sources used to reach their conclusions. They use, amongst others, the Ibn Ezra, Abarbanel, and the Ralbag, these sources are not typically used to form a halachic conclusion. Even more noteworthy, are some of the sources R. Fleckeles uses, the Me'or Eynaim by R. Azariah di Rossi, as well as Mendelssohn's Biur (pp. 4, 52, and 88). R. Fleckeles also quotes R. Shlomo Dubnow a few times (pp. 92, 115). What is particularly striking about the quotes from Mendelssohn, is that R. Fleckeles, like R. Landau [although R. Landau's opinion is subject to some debate] was firmly against the Biur. (See Alexander Altman, Moses Mendelssohn, pp. 486-88; Moshe Samet, Chadash Assur Min haTorah, pp. 76-7; Meir Hildesheimer, "Moses Mendelssohn in Nineteenth Century Rabbinical Literature," Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research (PAAJR) 55 (1988): 79-133, esp. p. 87 n. 23.)

The Meleches haKodesh is divided into two parts, the first, discussing the ambiguous verses, and the second, a through exposition of writing holy-names more generally. Throughout the book, while discussing the specific questions, he includes many of his own explanations of the pesukim. Additionally, he discusses many things of interest in halacha and aggadah not directly related to the main topic. Both of these factors make this an important work even for someone not involved in the topic of the usage of Hashem. [The second part is not reprinted in this new work.]

For instance, there is a discussion when did the author of Onkoles live. (pp. 4, 77). A discussion about the famous controversy of reciting Machnesei Rachamim. R. Fleckeles cites his teacher, R. Landau, that R. Landua when he said Neliah was careful not to pray to the angels. (p. 15). R. Fleckeles writes that tzadikim are greater than angels. (p. 42). Elsewhere he writes that even regular people are greater than angels. (pp. 104-5). At least twice he quotes Torah he thought of in his dreams. (pp. 14, 95). He records an interesting rule that wherever Chazal use "lamah" (למה) it is because they want to find out the reason for doing something that they do not know any reason for. This is in contrast to the usage of mipneh mah (מפני מה) which is used when there is a known reason but are not satisfied with that reason. (p. 110).

When it comes to the Zohar, R. Fleckeles uses interesting language. After quoting one statement from the Midrash of R. Shimon bar Yochi, he notes that there is a contradictory statement found in the Zohar, to which R. Fleckeles writes:
והיא נפלאת בעיני כפי המפורסם זה שלש מאות שנים חבור הספר הזוהר מהתנא האלקי רשב"י עליו השלום . . . יאמר נא יראי ה' אם זה הספר תולדות אדם גדול וקודש רשב"י הוא הוי ליה על פנים להזכיר דעתו בזה וצריך עיון רב ליישב על פי פשוט
(pp. 5-6). Elsewhere he writes with regard to having special kavanot when saying the name of God "ומעולם לא עלה על הדעת קדושים הראשונים חכמים וסופרים לחשוב מחשבות וספירות כי בימיהם לא ידע מאומה, בלי מה מספירה." (p. 133).

In general, throughout R. Fleckeles writings, there are interesting statements about Kabbalah and the Zohar especially, in the above mentioned Ahavat Dovid. In the introduction to that work he quotes a letter from R. Naftai Hertz Wessley which says
כי שמעתי מפי הגאון המקובל הגדול שהי' ידוע הזוהר וכל ספרי האר"י ז"ל בעל פה הוא הרב ר' יהונתן אייבשיטץ זצ"ל שהיה אומר לשומעי דבריו בעיני הקבלה כשראה שהם מפקפקים בהם ואמר אם לא תאמינו אין בכך כלום כי אין אלו מעיקרי אמונתנו, וכן היה אומר לאלו המביאים הקדמות מדברי קבלה לישב איזה גמרא או מדרש לא חפצתי בזאת ומה חדוש על פי קבלה תוכל ליישב מה שתרצה אמור לי הפשט הברור על ידי נגלה ואז אודך וכל זה אמת עי"ש עוד

Aside from the content of the letter, it is noteworthy that R. Fleckeles quotes R. Wessley at all, as Wessley was one of the early leaders of the haskalah movement and close to Mendelssohn.

The book ends with eulogies and has a separate title, Kuntres Nefesh Dovid v'Nefesh Chayah. This section is comprised of eulogies R. Fleckeles said on his parents, and includes many wonderful explanations of derush on all kinds of topics.

All of this is included in the back of the new work, Nekadesh es Shimcha. This work also is on the topic of the names and status thereof, of God in the Torah. Its author, R. Yehuda Farakas, includes many haskmos including that of R. Elyashiv. The main purpose of this book is to update R. Fleckeles work with the many sources which were unavailable to R. Fleckeles. There are also discussions of pesukim R. Fleckeles did not discuss at all.

Again, R. Farkas uses many works which are not typically used in a halachic context, this includes recently published manuscripts. Amongst the more noteworthy are the Pirush R. Avrohom ben HaRambam, Radak, and Bechor Shor. The use of these runs counter to the well-known opinion of the Chazon Ish regarding newly published manuscripts. R. Farkas also uses many commentaries on the Targumim and Ibn Ezra not otherwise used by most. Throughout, he quotes the pesakim of R. Elyashiv.

In conclusion, this an impressive, encyclopedic work on the topic of God's name. This is helpful in understanding the meaning of various pesukim in the Chumash. It is noteworthy that the controversial quotes remained, such as that of Mendelsshon. It is possible R. Farkas was unaware the Nesivos Shalom is the title of Mendelssohn's Biur. The one criticism is R. Farkas's decision not to republish the second part of Meleches haKodesh which would have made this a complete one-volume compendium on this topic.

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